Down Syndrome and Tooth Decay: 3 Things Parents Need to Know

8 February 2016
 Categories: Dentist, Articles

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes developmental disabilities and other abnormalities. While studies have shown that children with Down syndrome get fewer cavities than children without it, parents still need to be concerned about their child's dental health. Here are three things parents need to know about Down syndrome and cavities.

Why do children with Down syndrome get fewer cavities?

Children with Down syndrome develop fewer cavities than other children for a variety of reasons. Their primary teeth tend to erupt later than they should, which means that there is less time for them to become decayed before the permanent teeth replace them. Children with Down syndrome also tend to have smaller-than-normal teeth, and since these teeth have wider spaces between them, it's easier to remove plaque from all surfaces of the teeth.

Parents of Down syndrome children also tend to monitor their child's diet closely to keep them from becoming obese. The sweet, starchy, or sticky foods that can lead to weight gain are also cariogenic, meaning that they can lead to cavities, so your child's weight-control diet also provides advantages for their dental health.

However, adults with Down syndrome don't enjoy these same advantages, and some of them have a higher risk of tooth decay. Adults with Down syndrome may start eating the cariogenic foods their parents didn't let them have, which can cause cavities. They may also start taking medications that cause xerostomia (dry mouth), a side effect that can also increase their risk of getting cavities. For these reasons, it's important to teach your child good oral hygiene habits early in life.

How can parents teach good oral hygiene habits?

There are many things you can do to set your child up for a lifetime of good dental health. Children with Down syndrome benefit from a consistent approach, so brush their teeth at the exact same time and location every day. As they get older, allow them to start taking over parts of their oral hygiene routine. Tools like battery-powered toothbrushes can make it easier for your child to brush their own teeth, though you may still need to monitor them and provide support.

Teach your child that foods like candies or chips can cause cavities and should be eaten in moderation. To do this, allow your child to eat these foods occasionally (perhaps as a weekly or monthly treat) so that they're able to make tooth-healthy food choices on their own once they're an adult.

How can your dentist help?

Your dentist can help your child prevent cavities later in life. This can be done by treating their teeth with fluoride, a mineral that strengthens their teeth. Fluoride treatments can be given in many ways, including rinses and mouth trays. The treatment needs to be repeated periodically and will be given on a three, six, or 12 month schedule, depending on your child's overall oral status.

Sealants can also be applied to the teeth to protect them from cavities. Sealants are plastic coatings that are painted onto the chewing surfaces of the molars and premolars. These chewing surfaces have pits and fissures that can collect food and bacteria, so filling them in with sealant helps to prevent cavities. These coatings can last for years, and once they wear off, they can be reapplied to ensure that your child has continuous protection. Sealants can also be placed on adult teeth, so you child can rely on them for the rest of their life, if necessary.

Children with Down syndrome have a lower risk of tooth decay, but the same isn't true for adults. You can protect your child's future dental health by teaching them good habits now. For anything from emergency dental treatments to regular checkups for your child, get in touch with a dentist you can trust.